A crowd of more than 500 people turned out for the Youngstown State Baseball team's annual First Pitch Breakfast on Saturday morning at Blue Wolf Events at the Maronite Center in Youngstown.
The featured speakers for the morning were Major League Baseball Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench and Youngstown State President and newly elected member of the College Football Hall of Fame, Jim Tressel.
The impressive crowd was treated to a tremendous speech by Bench.
He got a laugh right off the bat when he said he wasn't sure what to call Coach/President Tressel. So he used "Lord" and "His Highness" when talking about him during his opening.
He said just being in the area for a short while he learned quickly that Youngstown State is a very important part of the entire community and said this is a great town for a University.
Bench told the group that he always wanted to be a Major League Baseball player and talked about his humble beginnings in his small hometown in Oklahoma. He kept working at and by the time he was just 17 years old he was already playing professional baseball after being his high-school class valedictorian.
When he returned home following his MVP campaign the town had a parade, he said. However, no one was watching the parade because everyone in his town was in the parade.
He spoke about the importance of the Vowels of Life and went through each letter to inspire people to look within themselves for greatness. He told everyone to aspire to inspire before you expire!
He had some fun with a photographer from The Vindicator and in the middle of his speech posed for some funny shots. When a bunch of pans crashed to the floor in the kitchen, his quick wit made say "In Conclusion" since he thought it must be time to wrap it up.
In the end, he told some good baseball stories and he received a standing ovation from all in attendance.
Tressel told the crowd, and Bench, that his wife, Ellen, had a favorite baseball player. And it was Bench, which Tressel admitted to not knowing until this past week. Impressively, Tressel went through all of Bench's career eye-popping statistics and accolades and told the crowd they had just a few things in common, which after naming just three, brought a good laugh.
YSU Baseball Head Coach Steve Gillispie thanked Bench for coming from California to be part of the event. He told the audience that Bench was his childhood idol and that he wanted to be just like him. Gillispie admitted to wearing the No. 5 as a player in honor of Bench after reading a book about the future Hall-of-Fame catcher when he was in the fourth grade.
Gillispie said the Penguins are looking forward to building off the way last season ended in which they won the Horizon League postseason tournament and picked up the school's first-ever NCAA Tournament win.
The offseason has gone well, Gillispie said, with the Guins being extremely productive in the classroom and in winter conditioning as they are now less than a month from the season's first pitch.
Live auction items featured an autographed jersey by Kansas City Royal Hall of Famer George Brett, an autographed All-Star Game jersey by Royal catcher Salvador Perez, a signed YSU Football Helmet by Tressel, four Cleveland Indians box seats/pregame batting practice passes and a special one-of-a-kind autographed jersey by Bench that he signed during the auction.
Silent auction items featured autographed memorabilia, jerseys and YSU apparel.
Among notable former Penguins who were in attendance on Saturday were current Major League pitcher Phil Klein (Texas Rangers), Baltimore Orioles prospect Drew Dosch and Jeff Davenport, who works in front office for the American League Champion Kansas City Royals.
The Penguins open the 2015 season on Feb. 13 when they visit Jacksonville State.